Parenthood has made me think more deeply about many things I used to not think much about, including prayer and my understanding of prayer. Coming off the heels of the High Holidays, I’ve been thinking about prayer a lot.
When it came time to introduce my children to the concept of prayer, that they have a loving G-d, that wants the best for them, and they only need to pray, to ask, for all their needs, and thank Him for all their blessings. I struggled with this. I worried about taking the innocence away from them. What happens that first time they will inevitably ask for some elaborate wish or something truly important and get the proverbial “no”? How will they be able to reconcile that not always will they get what they want but that doesn’t mean that same loving G-d, who is the one running the world and in charge of it all, will say “No” and somehow, it really is still good.
Obviously, I had work to do on my own understanding of prayer, my relationship with G-d, and accepting the disappointments or challenges in life while still being able to still see G-d as one who does only good. I’m sure I’m not the only one with low disappointment tolerance?
A recent conversation with a friend, and a discussion we had about another aspect of parenting, really crystalized and clarified this question for me.
She reminded me that oftentimes in parenting, we parents will make a boundary, but then the inevitable kvetching, nonstop requests, and demands of our children will sometimes cause us to rethink our decisions, and re-evaluate the boundaries we’ve made. This does not necessarily mean that we are ‘giving in’ to our children’s demands, or that they “have us wrapped around their finger.” It can simply be a healthy exercise of the flexibility of thought and principle, of not stubbornly sticking to boundaries that might have been set without all the right facts on hand. Sometimes the situation can change and that can demand new solutions. This is true about matters big and small, when it’s about a chocolate bar after a poorly eaten dinner, a gymnastics class, or what time bedtime is.
I’d like to think this is true about prayer too, our spiritual parent, G-d, wants to hear from us. He may have a plan for us. And it may be a good one. But sometimes it doesn’t look good to us, and we can ask for changes, we can beg, relentlessly, just like our children, for even the most unrealistic of requests, and G-d who can do absolutely anything, even splitting the sea, may choose to re-evaluate His boundary, His plan, and maybe make some changes.
Like my wise aunt likes to say, "G-d is not a vending machine", we don’t stick a coin in and get what we want, we make our desires and needs clear, and He, who truly has our best interests at heart, makes His decision based on His knowledge of the bigger picture.
Wishing for all my friends to have their prayers answered. With Chanukah, the holiday of unnatural miracles coming up, we can have high hopes. As my favorite menorah lighting prayer goes: Sheasah neeseem la’avoteinoo, bayamim haheim, oo’bezman hazeh. May miracles happen just like they did in those days, in these times too.
Living life and raising Jewish children